A Request for an Interview, Fiction for the Childfree

Imagine my surprise: Author Laura Carroll sent me an email requesting that I answer a few questions writing childfree fiction. To be sure, I was surprised and honored. Of course!

Her book Families of Two set Laura on the path to being one of the leading experts and voices on the childfree choice. A prolific author, she also wrote The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a Better World.

I wrote my book Human Slices when I was much younger and exploring my choice to be childfree — Was it really a choice, a pre-determined state of being, or something that just happened to me? I still don’t know the definitive answer to that. I do know, however, that it was the right choice for me.

When I first wrote my book, the idea of being “childfree by choice” wasn’t talked about much, if at all. It was almost taboo. It’s exciting to hear the discussions and ideas on that topic sparkle around the world through technology. Good for us and good for all.

Click here to access the interview on Laura’s site. Thanks, Laura!

Day of the Dead Sets the Scene — An Excerpt from Human Slices, a Love Story

Español: tradicional ofrenda del dia de los mu...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

On a rainy first of November many years ago, my friend Anne took me to Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art for its Dia de los Muertos celebration. I was immediately smitten by the altars, those skeletons, the offerings, the colors. That first Day of the Dead experience still dances in my bones. (Thank you, Annie!)

When I was working on the closing scenes of my novel Human Slices, I imagined my female protagonist heartbroken and numb at Halloween. Then she went off and created a Day of the Dead altar.

Whenever this day comes around, I think of this scene with Salm — which is her odd little nickname for her longer nickname, Little Salmon. Here’s an excerpt from the last chapter of Human Slices.

Happy Dia de los Muertos!


As the wet autumn leaves squeaked underfoot, Salm lugged four small pumpkins up the stairs to her apartment. She spread several Sunday papers onto the kitchen floor and sat down, putting the pumpkins between her legs. She cut deep wounds around their stems, and after pulling off the tops, she settled in for the best part of the job—digging her hands into the cold slime and separating the stringy innards from the seeds.

She spent the early evening washing the pumpkin seeds, salting them, and baking them in her oven. She was going to take the seeds to Sylvia and Reed’s tomorrow. They had just moved in together, and they were having a Day of the Dead celebration in conjunction with their housewarming party. Reed had told her he had a mild addiction to pumpkin seeds. While the seeds cooked, Salm sliced unhappy geometric expressions into the pumpkins’ faces.

Sylvia had introduced Salm to the Day of the Dead rituals—Dia de los Muertos—years ago. It was the day the dead came back to visit the earth. Creating an altar with candles was essential. The altar honored their memory, and the candles guided their way. 

After the pumpkins were carved, Salm lined them on top of her kitchen table. She went into her pantry and dug out the voodoo candles she bought at Maxwell Street last year—thick, round candles encased in sparkling glass. Her cats followed Salm from room to room as she roamed her apartment, picking up assorted mementos—photographs, bits of memorabilia, postcards, souvenirs, a book of poetry, letters, holy cards.

On her bureau, she found Luke’s dog magnets. She arranged and rearranged everything until the memories were in their right places. Then she sprinkled the entire creation with glitter. Satisfied with the altar’s look, she rummaged through the cabinet under her sink to find an old bottle of mescal and poured herself a double shot. She lit the candles and turned off the overhead light. 

She sat at the kitchen table and watched the candles flicker. “To the dead,” she began, lifting the shot glass to her eyes and squinting through it. She threw the fiery liquid down her throat. 

Salm toasted to the pumpkins. “To Dad.”  She sighed. 

“Aunt Elaine, Grandma and Grandpa Collins, Big Fred, Grandma Penszak.”  She sat in silence. 

“To Sandy, my guardian angel, Bobby Kennedy, Uncle Walt, Theresa, Peter.  Jennifer, Cal, Les, Stuart, Rick, Terrence.”

As always, Luke was on her mind. “To Luke’s parents, his Uncle Jerry, Greg, Anne Marie and all the rest.”  She felt a certain numbness from the mescal overtaking her fingers and toes. 

“To all of the lovers and friends who are dead…really dead…and the ones who are dead to me from absence.”  She felt tears burn in her eyes. 

“And, of course, to Luke.” She spoke quietly and solemnly. 

The candle flames quivered and swayed, catching and reflecting the light of the raindrops on the window.

Salm sat still for a long, long time. 

She thought she heard a knock at the back door, but it must have been a branch, or a tipped garbage can being blown down the alley.   

“It’s open,” she thought to herself. She remembered saying that to Luke so many times.

There was another knock. She looked up to the back door and thought she saw Luke’s image through the screen.  She wondered if the mescal could cause such a hallucination. 

“Salm?” Luke said quietly. 

Human Slices is available for Kindle and in print on Amazon.

The Grand Poobahs Speak — Who’s Right?

English: Stephen of England Česky: Štěpán z Blois

English: Stephen of England Česky: Štěpán z Blois (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was chatting with a writer friend the other day, and we got on the subject of adverbs. Exciting, right?

During our conversation, I tried to remember something clever I read about adverbs — about not using adverbs, that is — in Stephen King’s memoir On Writing.

I found the book on my shelf and flipped through it until I found the bit where King opined, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I can imagine King writing a story one day about a demon road in a battle with evil…in the form of words ending in -ly.

While I was searching through the book looking for King’s adverbial wisdom (with which I mostly agree), I ran across this statement: “Informal essays are, by and large, silly and insubstantial things; unless you get a job as a columnist at your local newspaper, writing such fluffery is a skill you’ll never use in the actual mall-and-filling station world.”

“Informal essays are, by and large, silly and insubstantial things.” — Stephen King, 2000

Tell that to the gazillion bloggers in the world.

King’s On Writing came out in 2000. According to Wikipedia, the word blog was coined in by “Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May 1999.”

King missed the boat on that one. What’s “fluffery” to some can be brilliance to many.

Thinking of King’s non-prophetic statement, I recalled when I read The Icarus Deception by bestselling author and super-blogger Seth Godin. Godin wrote in his 2012 book that analysis is what we need to write for the ether world. “Do it every day,” Godin opined. “Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis.”

I remember when I read that, and how sad it made me. I was late to the blog party, but I was envisioning my blog as a place for me to experiment with short fiction. Godin’s statement took the wind out of my sails.

Nonetheless, contrary to Godin’s rule, I have posted some micro fiction here on this blog in the form of my 259-word stories, and these little bits of story usually get some traction.

The Lesson Learned: You can’t believe everyone all the time, even the Grand Poobahs. And absolutely, that’s the truth.

Seizing the Solstice

solsticeI have the grand luxury of being able to watch the sun rise over Lake Michigan.

It’s quite astounding to me  — and I never get tired of noticing — the way the sun appears at a different point on the horizon each and every morning. There were 20,000 revelers gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the longest day of the year. I sat in my living room and drank coffee.

Hail, Great Hot Pink Ball of Fire! Today’s sunrise was a stunner. Happy Summer Solstice!

From where I sit, our Constant Sun rises every June 21 at a point on the horizon at Montrose Harbor, a spot north of downtown Chicago. Starting tomorrow, the sun will appear just a little south of that point and move a little farther south every day until, at the end of summer, it will show up on the horizon around Fullerton Beach. By the Winter Solstice on December 21, it will look to me as if it’s rising downtown near Navy Pier.

And so it goes. The sun travels up and down the horizon, making its way back and forth, step by step, day by day, inch by inch, over and over and over again. It does what it needs to do. It seems like such a relentless trooper. How crazy the spinning Earth must look to the Sun.

Sometimes I try to tilt my body the same way I imagine Mother Earth is tilting so I can better understand where I am in the universe. And then the realization sets in that I am spinning around really fast in the solar system. It’s too big of a concept for me to get my head around. I feel both painfully inconsequential and absolutely thrilled to be part of such a vast space-time continuum.

Nonetheless, welcoming the longest day of the year is always fun, especially when there’s a little ritual thrown in.

At dawn, I paid tribute to the sun with a made-up pagan prayer and my own extremely awkward version of a yoga Sun Salute.

Tonight I’m hoping to dance around a Maypole or a bonfire — someone will have something going on in the park tonight if it only stops raining. If it doesn’t, I may have to settle for  an indoor spin around a collection of burning candles. But yes, a dance is absolutely in order for the Summer Solstice….and a sunset cocktail, too, a summery one with fizz and fruit.

Frivolity aside, the reality of the Solstice is this: We’re already six months into the year.

And the Giant Shining Life Source in the Sky seems to be asking, “What’s left on your TO DO list? Tomorrow I start setting a little bit later every day. Time’s a’wastin’!”

Yes, Mr. Sun, you’re right. It’s time to seize the day.

_________________________

Related articles:

Yoga Sun Salute: http://www.wikihow.com/Do-the-Sun-Salute

Stonehenge Party:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2345638/Summer-Solstice-2013-Revellers-rise-dawn-celebrate-drumming-dancing.html

Solstice Cocktails:  http://www.ahistoryofdrinking.com/wordpress/2012/06/20/an-excuse-to-drink-summer-solstice-cocktails/

Connecting With Readers Over “Human Slices” — Priceless

The Visible Human Projectwww.ccmp.ncifcrf.gov

The Visible Human Project
http://www.ccmp.ncifcrf.gov

For any writer, a positive connection with a reader is priceless. When a reader feels compelled to seek me out, I am flattered, overwhelmed, happy, encouraged…and I whistle for days.

I received a Tweet from @taramade, an exuberant reader of my book, Human Slices. She wrote, “Great read, Gloria! Love the museum scenes. I want to see them myself!”

I was over-the-top delighted. When she comes to Chicago, I will be happy to show her around.

By museum scenes, she was referring to the novel’s opening action that takes place at Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry. One spot is particularly pivotal. The human slices exhibit, comprised of actual cross sections of human bodies, is the first meeting place of the two main characters.

At the human slices exhibit, each rectangular display case jutted out from the wall so that people could observe the slices from both sides. Salm stooped down to examine a shrunken, yellowed stomach from one side of the display case. Playfully, she closed one eye and peered through an open gap between the stomach and the intestines. Through this tiny opening, she could look out to the hallway.  She looked left and then right, and then she saw a man appear from around the corner. 

The title of the book, of course, is a tribute to that weird and fascinating installation.

I’ve been told time and time again that Human Slices is too freakish for the title of a love story. When I was looking for a publisher, one agent wrote in his rejection letter, “Is there really such an exhibit in a Chicago museum? Your lady’s attraction to body parts seems morbid and ghoulish. You’re making things very tough for yourself.”

I understood, of course, yet I never was able to change the name of the book. I was following the gut feeling emanating from inside my own “human slices,” the same way the female protagonist in the book listens to her heart to find her own truth and happiness.

In spite of the peculiar title, readers still reach for the book and periodically send me some first-rate feedback. It’s so much fun to know that someone has enjoyed it and given my characters a chance to come to life again for a brief moment in time.

A few days after @taramade’s Tweet about the museum exhibit, she posted other enthusiastic comments, like: “Loving all the little details! I forgot to mention the shrimp cocktail wine glass,” and “You come up with the perfect boat of course. A fat little red tug with lots of blankets.”

Next, she shot me a Pinterest photo (below) that reminded her of a scene where the lovers go stargazing in the back of the pickup. The photo she sent was absolutely perfect. @taramade was reading my mind! If a reader can “see what I mean,” I’ve done my job and that’s amazingly gratifying.

I didn’t think her comments could get any better. And then I received one more message…@taramade wrote: “I’m afraid to read too fast…I don’t want it to end!! :)”

Then another reader @La_Raconteur wrote to @taramade:  “OMG, isn’t this book simply gorgeous? It’s one of the few I’ve read that immediately captivated me. Perfection! ”

With those most excellent Tweets, my own “human slices” sparked and sizzled inside of me.

I’m still whistling.


Quiet in the Hills — A 259-Word Do Over

259words_01.jpgSpecial note: Yesterday, I posted the 259-Word story,”Tea with Sydney.” A friend commented on Facebook that it “Reads like the start of a murder mystery.” That comment instantly created a new vision and compelled me to write another story using the same opening lines but with quite a different ending. 

We rode the train through the Scottish Highlands to Mallaig, a storybook harbor town surrounded by a jumble of whitewashed buildings.

We missed the last ferry to the Isle of Skye. The man at the dock said, “Sorry. That’s the old schedule.”

Stranded until morning, we booked a room at an inn. The pub wouldn’t open for hours.

“Off for a hike!” Sara tallyhoed in her fake Scottish accent, waving her souvenir walking stick toward the hills that rose up behind town. Her need to make the best of things filled me with rage.

I once loved her joyfulness, spirit, and energy. Now, I hated her.

As we trekked across the countryside, she talked non-stop. “Look…sheep!” she exclaimed. “What a view!” “Flowers!” I usually could tune her out, but today the sound of her voice was unbearable.

In the middle of nowhere, we came upon a red public telephone booth. “Look at that,” Sara said. “Isn’t that odd? Take my picture!”

“How’s this?” She laughed with each new pose. “How’s this?” Every time I saw her open mouth in the viewfinder, I hated her even more.

I put the camera away and nudged her into the phone booth. “Shhhhh,’ I said, placing my index finger on her lips. I pressed against her and kissed her. Hard. It felt good to put my hands around her throat. She tried to scream.

The sun was setting. I would wait until dark to throw her body off the nearby cliff.

I looked out toward the sea. The only sound was the wind.

The Next Big Thing Is a Collection of Little Stories

Thanks to indie author Lindsay Edmunds via Christa Polkinhorn for inviting me to participate in a round-robin “blog chain” called The Next Big Thing, in which authors of various stripes preview their current works-in-progress by answering some pre-set questions. So, here goes...

I’m taking this opportunity to go on the record that I will indeed  — at long last — complete and circulate a short story collection in the summer.

The stories have been stewing in a big pot of procrastination, apprehension, avoidance, exasperation, and struggle. I’ve recently added some freshly chopped audacity and am hoping that it turns out to be delicious.

Here are my answers to Christa’s Q&A:

What is the working title of your next book?
The working title is Men With Long Hair. I’ve been told that the title sounds a little too Fabio for what it is, a collection of stories with touches of magical realism. Nonetheless, I feel attached to using Men With Long Hair.

Where did the idea come from?
I have been writing short stories for many years, and I could see connecting threads in a number of them. To make the connections stronger, I’ve rewritten the stories and then I have undone those rewrites…again and again and again. It is a work in progress, that’s for sure.

What actors would you choose to play the major roles?
That’s a tough question since these are stories and not a novel. But I suppose I would choose a strong yet vulnerable female lead of the Ellen Page type, paired with confused, troubled, and dreamy male actors who look fabulous with longish, shaggy hair — think Orlando Bloom.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A woman consistently finds herself in odd situations with inappropriate men.

How long did it take to draft the manuscript?
It’s been an on-and-off process covering about ten years.

Will it be self-published or will you be represented by an agent?
I’m going to self-publish it as an e-book. I don’t want to shop it; I want to share it while I’m feeling the courage to let it live on its own.

What other books are similar to Men With Long Hair? 
I am inspired by story collections like Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves. Note the word “inspired.”

What other elements might pique the reader’s interest?
The character of Gina has emerged as the key connecting female in the stories. She falls in love with one man who turns into a llama. Another love interest spontaneously combusts.

The first paragraph of one of the stories, “The Diner,” was included a number of years ago in an issue of the Mississippi Review that featured 147 first paragraphs of short stories. Here it is:

Gina held out her hand toward Marshall so he could see it shake. Her foot twitched beneath the table. Her heart pounded. Inside, her chest felt thick and muddy.

________________________

OTHER WORKS IN PROGRESS FEATURED IN THIS BLOG CHAIN:

Visit Lindsay Urban’s blog at Writer’s Rest to learn more about her new novel, CEL & ANNA: A 22nd CENTURY LOVE STORY.

Visit Christa Polkinhorn’s blog at Christa Polkinhorn Bookworm Press to learn more about her new novel, EMILIA.

Visit Susan Eisenberg’s blog at Unsynchronized Passions to learn more about her next novel, LUCKY FOR YOU.

Other participating authors:

Elizabeth Egerton Wilder

Linda Cassidy Lewis

John Cammalleri

Annie Acorn 

Darlene Foster

Check out hashtag #BlogNextBigThing on Twitter to find more author blogs about works in progress.